Eric Schwitzgebel argues that, due to recent empirical results illuminating some “genetic” “sources” of our intuitions, we’re past the point where philosophers can innocently take their intuitions at face value. We cannot responsibly proceed, as we have done previously, without “careful empirical reflection on the source and trustworthiness of” our intuitions.
I pointed out that responsible inquiry generally requires us to be open to evidence of our own defects. We never could have “innocently” ignored such evidence. These interesting empirical results don’t make that general point more plausible; they only alert us to specific areas where we perhaps should be especially careful.
Can Schwitzgebel, or those sympathetic to his point, accept what I say here without supplementation? My argument proceeds by relying on a seemingly obvious intuitive point about a requirement of responsible inquiry. Of course, aiming as I do to inquire responsibly, I’m open to the possibility that I’m misled about this seemingly obvious point. But Schwitzgebel tells us that “careful empirical reflection on the source and trustworthiness” of this intuition is (now) in order. I’ve not done any of that. Have any of us?
It would be ironic if we were simply, or even mainly, relying on intuition when pronouncing that empirical work should take a central role in the methodology of our erstwhile largely a priori discipline. If we argue for this genetic turn based on that intuition, shouldn’t we be supplementing it with empirical work indicating when or under what circumstances the intuition that a genetic turn is advisable in discipline X is trustworthy?
Here’s the general question this raises to my mind: can a thoroughgoing geneticist consistently rely on intuition without backing it up with the relevant empirical work? (The consistency here is of course methodological, not logical.)
It seems to me that he cannot.
Maybe the appropriate response is to take a more nuanced genetic turn, embodied in the maxim: supplement intuition with empirical work wherever you can, but provisionally rely on intuition alone when you must.